Realizing that a lawsuit just wasn’t safe

As the weeks passed, it became more and more apparent that the Waymakers were not going to have the decency to apologize to me for the way they handled a complaint they’d made about me to the dean’s office. At best, they had been incredibly thin-skinned about emails in which I simply told them off. At worst, they had been forced to back down when they couldn’t prove a false accusation of harassment.

What really irked me was that while I knew this complaint had been made in bad faith, I had no way of proving it. That was partly why I realized my initial desire to grab the table and flip it on top of them wasn’t going anywhere. True, anyone with half a brain could have looked at the timeline and realized that this complaint was made in bad faith. But without being able to counter the all-but-certain Waymaker defense that they felt it would be derelict not to report it, I had no way of proving it beyond reasonable doubt.

The more I thought about it, those same considerations also ruled out–at least for now–a lawsuit against KPIC. That may seem weird at first glance. After all, while Carolina’s student judicial system operated on the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” civil cases use the standard of “preponderance of the evidence.”

Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Donnell explain the distinction pretty well in their book about the Lance Armstrong case, Wheelmen. They noted that civil cases are governed by “basic common sense,” and the tools that defense attorneys can use to keep evidence out are far more limited. According to Albergotti and O’Donnell, Armstrong fought so hard to keep his doping case out of the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s arbitration process. They knew that USADA had enough evidence to convince “any person with half a brain” that Armstrong had been a serial doper.

On the face of it, “basic common sense” was on my side. I had the Website of The Forerunner proudly advertising KPIC’s former Maranatha ties, as well as the Waymakers’ essentially saying “So what?” when I confronted them with this information. I could argue that by knowingly continuing to do Pastor Ron’s bidding, they were engaging in reckless behavior that simply couldn’t be tolerated.

However, as I chewed on it, I realized that while I may have had the facts on my side, it still wasn’t enough to go forward with a lawsuit. For one thing, KPIC almost certainly had the resources to hire lawyers who could do a deep dive into my past. After all, they had enough money to build a coliseum of a thing to replace their current facility. It is all too common for defendants in civil cases to put the plaintiff on trial. I could not in good conscience expose my friends to this if it could be avoided.

More seriously, the fact that the Waymakers at least condoned the behavior of my former “sisters” made me wonder–what if, in response to my lawsuit, they made another complaint? Or two? Or three? Even if those all went nowhere, I was concerned it could potentially make it appear that I had a history of inappropriate behavior with women–and that it could potentially keep me from getting a job. Remember, we were only eight years removed from the Anita Hill imbroglio, a move that made employers more conscious about sexual harassment.

On what planet should anyone have to fear being retaliated against in this way just for speaking out? Now I knew how people who had been intimidated by the Mafia must have felt. No one–no one–should ever have to live in fear of being retaliated against simply they went to the authorities to demand the righting of a wrong. That is probably the most sacrosanct right that isn’t enumerated in the Constitution.

So with this in mind, I realized that the only way to head off these gutter tactics at the pass would be if I somehow were able to prove that the Waymakers’ complaint had either been in bad faith or had been a frame-up. If I could prove either was the case, I was going to have to content myself with finding a way to get in touch with their parents. While on paper I could have gone right to Bresicani, I had a feeling that contacting the Waymakers’ parents would have been a lot safer.

Not long after we returned from fall break, a chance to find that proof unexpectedly fell into my lap. Sadly, though, I realized that pursuing it would have required me to cross a line I wasn’t willing to cross.

An apology that never came

From the looks of it, the Waymakers had finally bitten off more than they could chew. At best, they had been exposed as being ridiculously thin-skinned after apparently complaining about me telling them off via email. At worst, they had only escaped being racked up for falsely accusing me of harassing them via email.

What was beyond dispute was that as a result of a deal brokered by associate vice chancellor Dean Bresciani, we’d simply agreed not to contact each other. I accepted it because I was under the assumption that they would apologize to me–and there was no defensible reason not to at least give them the chance to apologize.

It seemed like a no-brainer that they would apologize. The Waymakers at least had a defense for most of their outrages. Their hectoring of people about being saved? Well, they believed telling people about Jesus was the ultimate act of friendship, especially considering that they thought the person’s spirit, not the person, was making him or her cuss them out or blow smoke in their faces. Their continued loyalty to Pastor Ron even in the face of irrefutable evidence that he’d lied about his Maranatha past? Well, they thought that since people were being saved at Carolina, that was all that really mattered. And on, and on, and on.

You could easily tear these defenses into confetti. But it’s one thing to have a bad defense. It’s quite another to have no defense at all. And there was absolutely, positively no defensible reason for them to complain about me simply telling them off via email without making any effort to de-escalate matters first. I figured that Morgan Bates was sober enough to see this. His theology may have been ugly, but I got the impression that he, like Perry Burkholder, had some sense of restraint.

That’s why it was a surprise that when I got a letter from Bresciani about the agreement in my Spanish class roughly two weeks after my sit-down with him, there was no mention of an apology. As days turned into weeks, it soon became apparent that no apology was forthcoming.

I knew that the Waymakers’ moral compasses had been severely warped. For instance, on what planet was I supposed to be happy for someone going 200 percent rabid fundie after being relentlessly hectored about being saved? But this was beyond even what I expected, even after “Operation Trojan Fundie” showed that this bunch was even more unhinged than I suspected. This was a breach of every standard of basic decency and civility that was known.

Did they believe that they hadn’t done anything wrong, and therefore felt there was nothing for which to apologize? Or did they hate me so much that they felt I didn’t deserve an apology? Neither scenario was a good look. And these were people who could potentially have influence on other college kids, and were likely being groomed for leadership at KPIC and Morning Star. Perry, remember, linked up with Waymaker during his student days, and was now KPIC’s youth pastor. Rita Handler had joined the campus ministers’ staff right after graduating. I later learned that a number of my fellow now-juniors were leading Bible studies.

To think I’d once considered these people my friends, my brothers and sisters. If I needed another reminder that I was not and could not be like them, this was it. Looking back on this two decades later, I see a lot of parallels with two very infamous cases in literature of good people turning horribly evil–Darth Vader and the lawyers at Bendini, Lambert and Locke in “The Firm.”

Vader, remember, had been lured to the dark side after Palpatine convinced him that the Sith were on the side of good. The influence of the dark side twisted him so much that not long after turning, he was already killing younglings on Palpatine’s orders without so much as batting an eyelash. By Episode IV, he was already presiding over the wipeouts of entire planets and systems who had dared raise their hands against the Empire. It was much like how Pastor Ron had convinced the Waymakers that all that mattered was that people were being saved–and then not batting an eyelash at behavior the rest of us would consider harassment.

The lawyers at the Bendini firm had a similar reaction. Yes, the firm was mobbed up to the hilt. But they were making more money than they would have ever seen anywhere else, and didn’t want to give it up. Eventually, they were deeply immersed in a massive money laundering/tax fraud scheme. Worst of all, the most senior partners knew that they were sending Mitch, and before him Kozinski and Hodge, to their deaths–and didn’t even blink at telling them to get on the firm Lear.

In hindsight, I was seeing a similar case of moral corruption with the Waymakers. It made it all the more sickening that, on paper, they may have skated close to the line, but hadn’t gone over it. There wasn’t enough–yet–to blow the whistle to their parents or to school officials. I didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out they actually had gone over the line. Several miles over it.

Knowing what happened–but unable to prove it

By the time Monday morning dawned, I had every reason to believe that I would finally have a chance to get justice for all those who had been hurt by the Waymakers over the last five years, and by KPIC for a decade before then. In the absence of something I hadn’t heard or seen, the Waymakers had made a bad-faith complaint about me–one that would have been exposed as such if the campus ministers had taken the time to ask questions after shooting their bolt on Wednesday.

But incredibly, they hadn’t–or at least, they hadn’t bothered to reach out in hopes of diffusing the situation. Never mind that they were putting both themselves and KPIC in serious legal danger if this were exposed as false.

Assuming that this was related to a series of outraged emails I’d sent to my former brothers and sisters earlier in the year, I printed out my copies of the originals. If they’d edited those emails to make them look more nefarious than they were, I had every intention of turning the tables on them. Or rather, grabbing the table and flipping it on top of them by charging them with defaming me in an effort to trample on my right to free speech.

Based on the fact that it would be four days between the time I learned about the complaint and the time I was due to meet with associate vice chancellor Dean Bresciani, I suspected that administrators initially thought that whatever the Waymakers had told them, it was a nothing-burger. If they’d forged the emails, there would be no mercy–I intended to file a complaint against them. And once that happened, I had every reason to believe that it would be curtains, game over, sayonara for both Waymaker and KPIC.

Leaving nothing to chance, I wore jeans and a button-down shirt, even though it was a bit on the sticky side. After my last class of the morning, I headed over to Bresciani’s office in Steele Building.

Bresciani was waiting for me, and asked me to tell everything about my encounters with the Waymakers. The whole story came out, slightly abbreviated. I was amazed at how calm and composed I sounded. In truth, it took everything I had to keep my composure, especially given that I knew–at the very least–that the campus ministers had acted with wanton and reckless disregard for the truth.

Bresciani sounded interested. He was particularly intrigued when I told him that I tilted left, while the Waymakers tilted hard right. I told him that over the course of this short year, I’d made a deliberate attempt to avoid contacting them after finding out just how bad they were in the previous year.

For instance, when I was hiking to South Campus to get some things that my mom had sent by way of one of my cousins who was now a sophomore, I knew I was going to pass by a Waymaker gathering near that dorm. So I deliberately kept my head buried in the DTH. When Derwin Dhaliwal–the same guy who told me that rational minds can’t understand simple truths –recognized me, he shouted a greeting. I responded by giving him the finger.

When I gave him my copies of the emails, he looked at them for a minute or two and said that from where he was sitting, this wasn’t beating a dead horse, but “a horse that isn’t there.” I asked what evidence the Waymakers had offered–and they hadn’t offered any. He also didn’t offer any specifics as to what they were accusing me of doing or saying.

It was all I could do to keep from blowing up right then and right there. They’d gone to the dean’s office about me–and all they’d offered was just their word?! But while I was ready to turn the tables, Bresciani said that in his view, it wasn’t necessary. He thought a better way forward would be if we just agreed not to contact each other–and was willing to put it in writing. I turned it over in my head for a bit, and agreed.

Now some of you are probably wondering why I was willing to back down from filing charges of my own. Well, when Bresciani made the offer to broker a mutual agreement, it told me that he believed this was a big misunderstanding, that the Waymakers were just being thin-skinned. It really says a lot when merely telling someone what you think of the way they do business is worth going to the dean to complain. Apparently he and other administrators thought this was just a dispute between students in which they normally shouldn’t be involved–but that they had to do something to cover themselves legally.

Seen in this light, it seemed to go without saying that they would apologize for this misunderstanding. And if that were the case, nothing they had done up to that point–or at least, nothing I could prove they had done–would have justified refusing them a chance to apologize.

It was still a little bit frustrating. The whole situation practically screamed “bad faith.” Basing a complaint on month-old emails–and right after I hinted to one of their “sisters” that I was thinking about running for student body president? However, while I may have known the complaint had been made in bad faith, I had no way of proving it.

At the time, for student conduct violations, the Honor Court used the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the same standard used in criminal cases. While I would have argued that this was retaliation against me for speaking out, the Waymakers would have likely claimed that they felt the tenor of the emails was such that they had to report them. In the absence of a smoking gun that showed the complaint was retaliation, I had no way of proving it beyond a reasonable doubt.

So it was entirely possible that the Waymakers had pulled their biggest outrage yet–and yet, at least they could claim to have a plausible explanation for why they did what they did. It still said a lot, though, that they hadn’t even tried to de-escalate things before it got this far. Still, I assumed that Morgan Bates, now Waymaker’s nominal leader, had Perry Burkholder’s sense of restraint. Surely he would get those who peddled this complaint to apologize. Little did I know how wrong I was.

A failure of leadership–or something worse?

When I walked out on Waymaker in January 1997–early in the second semester of my freshman year–I had a hunch that as bad as they were, they were actually far worse than I suspected. After all, they knew I didn’t buy what they were selling. I believed they were hiding things from me until I became the Darrell they wanted me to be–er, the Darrell God wanted me to be. But what I did see was enough that even now, two decades later, it still makes me retch to think about the things I would have had to condone and accept to become one of them.

That hunch was confirmed in part with the Waymakers’ response when I told them that Pastor Ron had been lying to them almost from day one. He’d been hiding his past in a notorious campus cult when there was no possible good-faith reason for him to do so. And yet, their response was, in so many words, “So what?” After all, in their minds, people were being saved–and that was all that mattered. And to think I would have had to accept that had I drunk the Kool-Aid–er, new wine?

I received further confirmation when I burrowed back into that bunch in December 1997. Supposedly, my intellect had made me run away from God. What’s more, my rational mind couldn’t understand simple truths. Throw that in with my sinful nature, and that was all that was keeping me from being a good Spirit-filled Christian. If your head is spinning, don’t feel bad. Even now, thinking about how I saw this much claptrap in a short period of time makes my head spin as well.

But even as bad as they were, I never even suspected that Waymaker’s campus ministers would condone attempts to frame up someone who spoke out against them. That was the best-case explanation for the radio silence I was getting from them after learning that several of my former “sisters” had complained about me.

Remember, I’d assumed that they wouldn’t have escalated things this far unless there was something written. But the only written communication I’d had with them that year was a series of emails in which I’d told them off–all the way back in August.

I would have understood if Morgan Bates, Aaron Levinson and Rita Handler had felt it would have been derelict not to report this. There are cases where harassment is a “shoot first, ask questions later” situation. But it was beyond belief they would forget the “ask questions” part–if only to cover both themselves and KPIC legally. After all, by going on Waymaker’s behalf, they were acting as agents of KPIC–which put both them and their church in deep legal doo-doo if this turned out to be false.

I knew they were oblivious to the legal ramifications of their continued loyalty to Pastor Ron. But this was another matter altogether. While they could have explained their continued willingness to do Pastor Ron’s bidding out of a twisted sense of doing good, they could not explain what was, at best, a reckless disregard for the truth. It sent the message that, at the very least, they condoned this behavior. The possibility that they even thought this was okay sent a chill down my spine.

Now how could you get worse than that, you ask? Well, I was starting to wonder if my initial visceral reaction when I learned of these accusations wasn’t so outlandish after all. While I was recovering from the initial shock, my first thought was, “Those three bastards orchestrated this!” But I didn’t think even they would stoop that low–if only to protect themselves and KPIC legally.

But when I considered that there was no possible good-faith reason for them not to at least try to diffuse the situation, I had to wonder–was it because they didn’t expect me to defend myself? Plus, of all the ways they could have found to frame me up, they picked one of the few for which, at least on paper, they could have explained why they did what they did–no matter how outrageous it was? I at least had to wonder if this went beyond something the rank-and file “sisters” could have done on their own.

But even if Morgan, Aaron and Rita hadn’t orchestrated this, I knew that at the very least they were disengaged in a way that leaders of a student organization at a university simply could not be. Which meant, at best, this was an unacceptable and dangerous failure of leadership.

So by the time I went to bed on Sunday night, I was in no mood to be merciful. If this was playing out the way I thought it was playing out, I was going to insist on filing charges of my own. After all, if the campus ministers condoned framing people up like this, they and their church needed to be taken down–and taken down hard.

A chance to turn the tables

Well, it’s been awhile since I came here. But between overtime and a blossoming relationship with a new woman, I haven’t had a lot of time to post here.

When last we left, I’d just been broadsided by what may have been Waymaker’s biggest outrage yet. I’d learned that some members of Waymaker had peddled some sort of complaint about me. No specifics, nothing. The complaint had been forwarded to Veronica Joseph, an assistant dean of students. In turn, I was due to discuss it with associate vice chancellor Dean Bresciani on the following Monday.

On paper, this was in my favor. The fact that a further discussion wasn’t due to take place until the start of the following week suggested that whatever the Waymakers said, Joseph and Bresicani must have suspected it was a nothing burger. At the same time, they must have believed they would be derelict if they simply blew it off.

But this was no reason to rest easy. After all, if this was an attempt to frame me, I figured they were banking on my “defense” amounting to little more than waving my arms and screaming about how they deceived me and guilt-tripped me two years prior. But without a clue about what I was facing, I didn’t know what I was dealing with.

This all came down on a Thursday. By the end of the day, the shock had died down enough that I was able to make an educated guess as to what they might have said I had done.

For this, I assumed that they wouldn’t have escalated things this far unless there was something written. I found it hard to believe they would create a “he said, she said” situation. It would just make them look petty. The only written communication I’d made with them in this relatively young year had been a series of blistering emails I’d sent my former “brothers” and “sisters” in which I’d torn into them for their deceit, their guilt-tripping, the lot.

Fortunately, I had a habit of saving the copies of my emails in my “sent” folder. And they were all still there. No threats, nothing of the sort–just telling them what I thought of their tactics. And they were sent in late August. Here it was, almost October.

It made me wonder if they had somehow cut-and-pasted threats into their copies. If that was true, then it could be easily disproven. After all, Carolina’s IT department had the originals as well. Indeed, it was so easily disproven that I wondered if they were simply expecting me to just rant about what they’d done to me.

Going on this assumption, at some point during the weekend, I fully expected a call, an email, something from Morgan, Aaron and/or Rita offering an apology. I could have understood Waymaker’s campus ministers would feel that it would be derelict not to go to the dean’s office.

Situations like this are normally a “shoot first and ask questions later” situation. But I thought that the process of asking questions would make them realize that this was false. Granted, I’d learned to expect little from the Waymakers. But surely this would have been too much even for them, right?

But Thursday night passed. No calls. Friday came and went. No calls. By the time the sun set on Saturday, I found myself wondering, yet again, if the Waymakers may have gone over a line that even I hadn’t believed they’d crossed. It was also by this time that shock gave way to anger. Instead of wondering, “How could they do this to me?” I was wondering, “How bleepity-bleeping dare they do this to me?”

The thing that angered me was that I had once faced a similar crossroads. If you’ll remember, Perry’s disturbingly casual reaction when I told him about Pastor Ron’s Maranatha past led me to wonder–had he and Morgan known about it all along, and not bothered to tell us about it? But I realized that if that were true, Perry and Morgan would have had to have hidden it from Danielle and Loretta. Nothing in my interactions with Danielle and Loretta suggested they would have been at all okay with their men hiding this minor from them. And in Loretta’s case, it would have likely brought her parents steaming up the highway from Charleston.

As much as I increasingly hated the Waymakers, I could not and would not make such an accusation when I had good reason to know it was false. I thought the Waymakers would have shown that same consideration. Increasingly, I was wondering if that assumption was wrong.

But at the same time, I realized that I may have had the chance to turn the tables on them. If it turned out this was a frame-up, and it was intended to shut me up, I could turn around and charge them with trying to trample on my right to free speech–a pretty serious offense under Carolina’s student conduct code. Which meant the chance for which I’d been waiting almost two years–to expose them and have them run off campus–may have fallen into my lap.

By Sunday afternoon, I had made up my mind–if this was what happened, I was going to not just turn the tables on them, but grab the table and flip it on top of them. They would have had a hard sell to make to convince me otherwise had they reached out to suggest it was a misunderstanding. But I would have been willing to listen. Not after this. I was going to get them booted off campus, or at the very least bring enough to light that KPIC’s 17-year shell game would be exposed in full.

Assuming that this was indeed a frame-up, the Waymakers may have been about to learn the meaning of the old adage, “He who digs a hole under others falls into it himself.” And I intended to make sure they wouldn’t get out. For the first time, not counting the first day of school or the semester, I was looking forward to Monday. After all, it could potentially be the beginning of the end of Waymaker.

An unpleasant surprise–a possible frame-up

(names in italics are pseudonyms)

Well, it’s been awhile. Between a long-overdue vacation to Boston, overtime at work, and unexpectedly finding love after two years of being single, I haven’t had much time to post here.

When we left off, I’d chronicled some very revealing glimpses into the Waymaker mentality. I’d gotten solid confirmation of something I’d long suspected–the Waymakers merely viewed friendship as a transaction, a way to get more notches on their Bibles. After all, they were trying to use a program to befriend international students as a way to funnel people into Waymaker and KPIC. Coming on the heels of discovering that one of the few people with whom I wanted to maintain a friendship out-and-out lying to me, it was yet more proof I’d dodged a dumdum bullet in my freshman year.

I had every reason to believe that they wouldn’t be playing this game for long. I’d already decided at some point to pull the trigger on a possible suit against Waymaker and KPIC. Indeed, I was confident enough that this would be over quickly that I decided I could run for student body president after all. To my non-lawyer’s mind, unless the Waymakers could explain why they remained loyal to Pastor Ron after finding out he was lying to them, they were cooked.

But all of that got thrown into a tailspin in mid-September. Just before the end of my media criticism class, someone walked in with a letter for me. Just as I was about to meet with members of a group with whom I was working on a presentation for later in the month, I opened it. It was from an assistant dean of students, Veronica Joseph. She wrote that “a matter has come to my attention that concerns you,” and that I needed to meet with her after class.

While hiking the short distance from Saunders Hall, where my class was, to the deans’ office in Steele Building, I wondered what this could be about. I initially thought it might have something to do with a recent spate of harassment claims by the women’s soccer team. I wondered if due to my unique role as both student and reporter for Inside Carolina, I was being put on notice to watch how I covered them.

As I was searching for Joseph’s office, I heard a woman’s voice say, “Mr. Lucus?” The voice came from a black woman wearing what looked like a Delta Sigma Theta sorority jacket. I walked into her office, and before I could even sit down, she told me she’d received a complaint about me from several members of Waymaker.

That hit me from somewhere around thread level on the carpet of Joseph’s office. Viscerally, I knew this was baloney. I demanded an explanation. She told me that I could discuss it further with Dean Bresciani, the associate vice chancellor for student services, on Monday–some four days later.

I staggered out of the room. Where in the world had this come from? The last extended interaction I’d had with the Waymakers had been when I unexpectedly ran into some of them just days after blowing up their international gambit. I’d come pretty close to blowing up at them in a way that I couldn’t have defended, so I’d made a deliberate effort to keep my distance from those whom I knew still lived in Granville. That was almost a month ago.

I remembered that two days earlier, I was on my way to a Young Democrats meeting when I ran into Christina Roland. I casually mentioned that I was mulling a run for student body president. Could that have been the trigger? No way, I initially thought. They wouldn’t be that stupid.

There was another reason this threw me for a loop. I’d ripped them from one end to the other before–and they’d done nothing. The first came at the tail end of my freshman year, when I finally decided I wasn’t going to be afraid of them anymore. They were gathering in the Hinton James lobby just before their weekly Bible study when I came down and called them out for their deceit and guilt-tripping.

During my sophomore year, I’d torpedoed two of their events where they’d hoped to rope in more converts, and had done so publicly and loudly–first Bret Holman, then Big Tommy Sirotnak. And yet, they hadn’t complained.

As the shock wore off later that day, I suspected one thing worked in my favor. Given what they were accusing me of doing, it was rather telling that another discussion wouldn’t take place until Monday. Whatever the Waymakers had told them, they must have thought it was a nothing burger–but one that they still had to look into given the climate less than a decade after the Anita Hill imbroglio.

But I knew I couldn’t take things for granted. Assuming that this was a frame-up, I figured the Waymakers were expecting my “defense” to amount to just waving my arms and screaming that they were the ones who had abused me. I actually had to convince Bresicani that I could not and would not stoop to such a level, no matter how much I despised the Waymakers.

That meant trying to figure out what I was dealing with. Then I remembered–at the start of the year, I’d torn into my former brothers and sisters in a series of blistering emails. The more I thought about it, this might have been the trigger. After all, it seemed hard to believe they’d escalate things this far without something written. But this had been almost two months ago. The only way it would have made sense for them to use that as an excuse would have been to heavily edit them to make them sound harassing or threatening. If that’s what they had done, they were in for a surprise–I was pretty sure still had the originals. And Carolina’s IT people still had the originals too.

So I knew what I had to do that weekend–make sure I still had my copies. If I had those, the Waymakers were going to be in for a surprise on Monday.


A funny definition of “unpleasant”

It had been clear for some time that the Waymakers were of the mind that all was fair when getting people saved. Seeing some of the things I would have had to condone had I become one of them made me want to wretch. Lying about who they were so as not to scare people off. Guilt-tripping. Hectoring to the point of harassment. Love-bombing.

Now I could add another item to the list. I already knew that the Waymakers didn’t see those around them as people, but merely as potential notches in their Bibles. But something about how they were planning to use friendships with foreign exchange students to funnel them into KPIC left a particularly rancid taste in my mouth. Taking advantage of vulnerable kids from the States was bad enough. But internationals, especially those from countries where it was hard to get in touch with loved ones back home? That was really low. This is one of many things that still makes me retch when I think about it 20 years later.

That was why just a few days after I torpedoed that gambit, running into some of my “brothers” and “sisters” one night coming out of the Carolina Union had me seething. I was heading out from using the bathroom when I happened to run into Rita Handler, Eric Syfrett and another one of my former “sisters,” Carrie Donovan.

Rita was the first to spot me. “Hi Darrell,” she said. I wasn’t in any mood to be friendly, instead laying into all three of them. Rita tried to cut me off, saying that she didn’t want to hear anything unpleasant.

That really made me mad. After all, Rita’s love-bombing of me during the second semester of my freshman year still stuck in my craw. Indeed, one of the reasons I had been wary about burrowing back into Waymaker was the prospect of pretending to be friendly with a girl who, at the very least, had pretended to want to be friends with me with the intent of pulling me back into Waymaker. The fact that was the best-case scenario didn’t say a lot for her. If she considered calling that out “unpleasant,” it didn’t say much for her either.

I was literally thisclose to cussing them out in front of everyone. But after a few seconds, I yelled at her, “I know what you did in my freshman year, Rita! And I’m gonna make you pay!” I then stomped off.

When I got back to Granville, I realized I’d skated a bit too close to the line for comfort. I knew that I couldn’t even stand the sight of these people whom I once thought were my friends. For instance, I was hiking to South Campus to pick up some stuff from one of my cousins, a sophomore. It so happened that Waymaker was having a kickoff event there–all the better to scoop up freshmen, apparently. Knowing this, I’d kept my head buried in a DTH to keep from having to say much to them. That didn’t stop Derwin Dhaliwal from spotting me and saying hi. I responded by flipping him off.

But this was another matter altogether. I realized if I’d come that close to blowing up at the Waymakers in public in a way that I wouldn’t be able to defend later on, I really needed to be careful with how I interacted with them. As much as I now hated them, there were some things I just couldn’t do–especially if I planned on hauling them into court. I knew there was a particularly good chance of that happening with Jo Rumsey still staying there. One Sunday, I was walking upstairs from the basement lounge when I saw Jo and her roommate heading out for church. I paused before going through the doors, not wanting to chance a blowup. I continued doing this for the next few weeks.

Little was I to know that when the next major clash happened, it would be the Waymakers who apparently went nuclear.

Unmasking another case of Waymaker deceit

I knew I had dodged a dumdum bullet almost three years earlier when I walked out of Waymaker. I already had some idea what I might have become had I let them bend my brain. But for at least the third time, one of my former compatriots had taken advantage of a desire to maintain something approaching a normal friendship.

That was the only plausible explanation for how Elaine Danielson blatantly lied to me about how she’d been quoted in an article for the DTH. It looked like she’d assumed I’d simply take the word of a fellow Spirit-filled believer. If that was the case–and it sure looked like it was–then at some point Elaine had stopped seeing me as a friend and seeing me as a potential notch in her Bible. In other words, she’d fully embraced the prevailing mentality in Waymaker.

Whenever I saw examples of this, I thought back to something that happened the first time I set foot at TCF/KPIC. We had loaded up Perry’s van to get ready to head back to Chapel Hill when Perry had to break up a fight between two of his charges in the youth ministry. He spent somewhere around 10 to 15 minutes talking with them.

It was a sign Perry cared about them individually. Rather than simply bundle them off to their parents and let them handle it after a cursory conversation, he actually took the time to talk to them. That was what made his dismissive attitude about Pastor Ron hiding his Maranatha past hard to understand. You would think a guy who cared enough about the well-being of the kids in the youth ministry would know that continuing to do Pastor Ron’s bidding put the Waymakers’ futures at risk–and in turn, put him, Danielle, Morgan, Aaron and Rita in great legal danger.

The Waymakers’ “so what?” reaction to Pastor Ron’s deceit was the first of many signs I’d seen during my sophomore year that they took a transactional approach to friendships and other interactions. It looked like they saw nearly every opportunity under the sun as a potential chance to preach at someone, slip them a tract, etc. And apparently all was fair in doing so.

A week after Labor Day, I got a revealing reminder of just how deep this mentality ran. I spied a printout of an email near the Undergraduate Library, but when I was about to throw it away, I noticed it was an email to the Waymakers’ listserv. Marina Delton had forwarded a message from Denise Mason about a new program to help foreign exchange students find friends at Carolina. Denise giddily mentioned how this was a potential bonanza to win them to Jesus.

The implication was obvious–they saw this as a possible opportunity to funnel these kids into Waymaker and KPIC. I knew that they saw telling people about Jesus as the ultimate act of friendship. But to take advantage of internationals in this way? They were no different from vultures.

Fortunately, the contact information for the program was in the email. I wasted little time setting up a meeting with the person in charge of the program. She assured me that this was not something that she intended her program to be, and assured me she would nip it in the bud. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Denise walked into a meeting, only to find her own words essentially wadded up and thrown at her.

To my mind, this was yet more evidence this bunch had to be taken down. This was as blatant a case of deceit as I’d ever seen from them.  If all went well, I was now just a few weeks away from starting the process of effectively putting Waymaker and KPIC out of business.

Taken advantage of by someone I thought was a friend

Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve been here. But due to a crazy amount of overtime at my day job, I haven’t a lot of time. It’s too bad, because when we left off, I was chronicling how I was about to start my junior year at Carolina–and possibly sue Waymaker out of existence.

When I saw that Waymaker was indeed back in business, I knew the clock had started ticking. I’d hoped to at least start the process of hauling Waymaker and KPIC into court. Given that I could prove at the very least that Perry and Danielle Burkholder, Morgan Bates, and Aaron Levinson had known Pastor Ron had lied about his past in Maranatha and had no possible good-faith reason to do so. No matter how fundified the Waymakers’ parents may have been, it was inconceivable that they would be at all okay with the kind of deceit that was SOP in Waymaker.

Throw in that Perry and Danielle had turned Waymaker over to Morgan, Aaron and Rita Handler in order to focus on their duties as KPIC’s youth pastors, and it was a no-brainer. People who were okay with fostering an environment in which the deceitful and hurtful tactics I’d seen were at all acceptable were the last people who should be anywhere near kids. This church had to go down.

Just a few days after the start of spring semester, I got a sobering reminder of what I had almost become. If you’ll remember, late in my sophomore year I’d harbored hopes of retaining a friendship with Elaine Danielson, a freshman I’d met when I burrowed back into Waymaker. She didn’t seem like she was anywhere near as deluded and fanatical as my fellow sophomores. I thought I’d blown it when I asked her why she didn’t feel like she’d been growing in InterVarsity before making her way to Waymaker, only to have her go off on me. But we started talking again after spring break, and was actually happy to find out I’d spoken in tongues.

That’s why I had been somewhat taken aback while perusing the DTH over the summer. Elaine had been interviewed for an article profiling how different students felt about how drinking affected their religious commitment. She had been quoted as saying that respect for other religions took a back seat to Godliness, but claimed she had been misquoted.The author of that article happened to be a friend of mine as well. I’d asked her about it at the time, and she stood by her story.

Something didn’t add up. I compared Elaine’s words in that article to a letter to the editor she’d written a few months earlier in defense of Alveda King, Martin Luther King’s niece. She’d come to Carolina in February, and claimed that God hated homosexuality and loved “victims of racism and homosexuals.” The tone of the letter was identical to how she was quoted in the later article.

I let this stew over the summer. But just to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me, I compared the two again a few days before classes. I couldn’t believe it. Elaine was blatantly lying to me.

So for the second time in at least a year, it looked like one of my former compatriots in Waymaker was trying to play me for a sucker. If you’ll remember, early in my sophomore year, Allison Millstein just happened to remember to ask me if I wanted to go to KPIC sometime when one of her “brothers” happened by.

This seemed no different. The most benign interpretation was that Elaine must have thought that since I was now Spirit-filled, I’d take her word for it since she was a Spirit-filled sister. Oh, she don’t know me very well, do she? I thought. I felt betrayed. I’d wanted to remain friends with her, and this was the thanks I got?

I felt like calling her and letting her have it, but realized that in the mood I was in, it was very likely I’d say something that could come back to bite me later. So after I calmed down, I emailed her and told her in no uncertain terms that unless she stopped playing this two-faced game, I wanted nothing to do with her.

When I hit “send,” I felt something lift off of me. I realized what little fear I had of them had disappeared. I’d given my “brothers” and “sisters” an earful in the Hinton James lobby late in my freshman year, but something in me at the time still asked, “Am I doing the right thing here?” I’d also harbored some hope at the time of still being friends.

But no such worries existed anymore. What Elaine had done had completed my education about this brand of fundamentalism as far as I was concerned–and removed any illusions of being friends with them. After all, they never saw me as a friend, but as a potential notch in their Bibles. So soon afterward, I fired off emails to several of my other former “brothers” and “sisters” telling them how I felt about their deceitful and hurtful games.

So what next? Well, I suspected that it wouldn’t be long before they tried something–so it was best to sit and wait. Wouldn’t you know, I was right. More to come later.

Back to campus

When I returned to Chapel Hill to start my junior year, I was looking ahead to a lot. I was getting into the nitty-gritty of working in my major. I was also seriously considering a run for student body president. But foremost on my mind, I believed I was going to have a chance to stick a dagger in the back of Waymaker and KPIC.

At some point in the fall semester once I figured out how my classes were going to run, I planned to approach Student Legal Services about possibly hauling KPIC into court. To my non-lawyer’s mind, it looked like an open-and-shut case. After all, at best, I could prove that Perry, Danielle, Morgan and Aaron were willing to do Pastor Ron’s bidding even after being told that he was lying about his past in Maranatha and had no possible good-faith reason for doing so.

In so doing, they put their church, and themselves, in great legal danger. And in so doing, they sounded a lot like Hitler’s generals did on the stand at Nuremberg, who knew Hitler’s orders were illegal and obeyed them anyway. Likewise, it was inconceivable that Perry, Danielle, Morgan and Aaron didn’t at least ask themselves whether what they were doing was wrong. Unless they could explain why they continued to do Pastor Ron’s bidding despite knowing about his deceit, to my mind they didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Then consider the matter of Loretta’s parents. What would they think if they found out that Morgan had gotten their daughter into a situation like this? Any parent with any kind of love for their daughter would have been on the road from Charleston to Chapel Hill in roughly the time it took me to write this sentence. And that’s before we even discuss the possibility of the parents of my former “brothers” and “sisters” hitting the ceiling once this became public.

As usual, Myers Park was sending a small army to Carolina. Since it was now apparent that Waymaker would be around for longer than I expected, I felt the need to warn them. Looking in the student directory, I was able to find out where the Waymakers lived on campus so I could warn my friends. I also sounded the alarm with my suitemates in Granville, all of whom were freshmen. One of them mentioned seeing an advertisement for Waymaker on the kiosk near the Student Union. While on the way to buy my books for the semester, I took a peek for myself–and there it was.

Admittedly, I still was nervous about pulling the trigger on a lawsuit. But any doubt in my mind evaporated when I learned that Perry and Danielle were no longer leading Waymaker. Instead, they were devoting their full attention to KPIC’s youth ministry. I was appalled. Those two had, at the very least, fostered an environment in which the deceitful and hurtful tactics I’d seen in Waymaker could have even occurred. It was outrageous enough when Perry and Danielle were doubling as both KPIC’s youth pastors and leaders of Waymaker. But to go full time as youth pastors? The thought that they could have any influence on the Triangle’s kids was just obscene. Even with what I knew about fundie culture, it seemed hard to believe that too many of KPIC’s parents would be at all okay with their kids being within an area code of Perry and Danielle once the truth about what happened in Waymaker came out.

So I decided that sometime in late September, I’d have a chat with Student Legal Services and get the ball rolling on suing them. From where I was sitting, I thought this would be over quickly. Little did I know that I wouldn’t even get the chance to make that move.